Friday, October 24, 2014

CHEAPSKATE HORRORSHOW: RESURRECTING THE EVIL DEAD By John Rose


Welcome back to The MonsterGrrls' Thir13en For Halloween, and this is your Mad Doctor.  Today we're introducing what we hope will become a new regular feature on MonsterGrrls.com: Cheapskate Horrorshow, featuring reviews and overviews of favorite horror films including those in the categories of the weird, the wonderful, and the wacky.  Today we'll start with a film that was remade recently (much to our consternation): Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead.

Something's in the cellar with Cheryl
I can't fully explain to you why I love The Evil Dead. It's a gorefest of the first order: a violent, insane, raving, incredibly ghoulish film with much blood and horror, which usually isn't my cup of tea. But there is something about this film that makes it one of my favorite horror movies. Perhaps it's the simplicity of its story. Perhaps it's the fact that its characters were different from other horror movie characters of the day, in that they were not just cannon fodder; instead, you cared about what happened to them even after the mayhem started. Perhaps it was the cool stop-motion effects shown at the end, when all the zombies started decomposing really fast. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I grew up in the eighties, where serial killers, slashers and gore were the order of the day in horror movies, meaning that as a committed fan of classic horror and Universal's Big Seven (Frank, Drac, Wolfie, Mummy, The Bride, Phantom, Invisible Man and Blacky Lagoon), I was usually left out in the cold or forced to watch the same stuff others were watching. Yeah, I saw Freddy and Jason and a good many of their sequels just like the rest of you, but it doesn't mean I liked them. I was often left unsatisfied by these movies, or feeling as though something was generally missing. Like fun, for one thing.
Raimi and Tapert: A fruitful partnership
But The Evil Dead is different. For one thing, it was made on probably the shoestring budget to end all ($375,000; not even pocket change these days by Hollywood standards) by people who had very little idea of how to do some aspects of moviemaking correctly, in the worst conditions possible. The film's director and star, Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell, had been friends since their youth and had made Super-8 films together. In college they teamed with friend Robert Tapert (who is now Mr. Lucy Lawless and head of Renaissance Pictures, producers of Xena, Warrior Princess, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, and... The Evil Dead movies), and after making a short film, Within The Woods, they were able to secure funds to create The Evil Dead. Filming began in a small cabin in the woods of Tennessee and continued over the next four years. The madness of this process has now become legend: during the time it took to make this film, many of the cast and crew abandoned the production, forcing Raimi to use stand-in actors as replacements.
Upon its completion, the film struggled to find distribution due to its graphic violence and gore, and the MPAA slapped it with an NC-17 rating. It was widely banned in several countries including Ireland and Germany, but a showing at Cannes caught the eyes of both Stephen King and John Bloom. The latter, in his persona of drive-in-movie reviewer Joe Bob Briggs, promoted the film with foam-mouthed aggression, and King gave it a glowing review in the November 1982 issue of Twilight Zone. It has since gone on to become a cult classic and a direct inspiration for many of today's horror filmmakers, sort of on a par with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (though, in both production values, story and character development, Evil Dead is the better of the two).
The Book
The story of The Evil Dead is pretty simple: five young people go on a weekend jaunt to the woods, planning to camp in a cabin. Upon arriving, they discover a tape recorder and some archaeological artifacts, one of which is an odd-looking book with a screaming face for a cover. Playing the tape, the group hears the recorded journal of a professor, which explains that the book is Norturum Demondo, an ancient Sumerian text with rituals for raising the dead. Of course, this journal features a recitation of some of the book's incantations, which is never a good idea. (Handily, it also tells how to get rid of what is let loose by your messing around with Stuff You Weren't Meant To Know—but more on that in a minute.)
Ash (Bruce Campbell) gets ready for business
Cue supernatural mayhem. One by one, various terrible things happen to the five. A girl is driven out into the woods and attacked by the woods, then possessed. The others become possessed by turns, and with their souls destroyed by the evil forces that have been unleashed by the tape, the resulting corpses are then reanimated into zombies—and not ordinary zombies, either. These are not the doddering brain-hungry zombies of Night Of The Living Dead, or even the fast rage-fueled hyperdrive models of 28 Days Later; instead they are lucid, squirming, scrabbling, ranting demon-possessed zombies who want someone's soul on a platter. The survivors of the first initial assault slowly realize that the rest of the information on the tape is true; to kill these zombies, the corpses have to be dismembered completely before burial. One by one, the group perishes until only one is left alive—Ash (Bruce Campbell), the nice guy of the group, who spends the rest of the movie being driven bananas by the demons, and must survive until daybreak.
This is probably part of why I can get onboard with The Evil Dead. It has a supernatural element, which is something that is missing from most modern horror. Many of today's horror films talk a good game about paranoia, terrorism, technology and other fears of today being the driving motive of their films' plots, but more often than not the plots seem to be constructed around the phrase shit happens, which in my opinion makes for lousy filmmaking. To suggest that there is something bigger than humans, such things as true good and true evil, or that we may not be the only beings in this universe can usually get you laughed out of the horror show these days.

Evil Dead doesn't buy into this notion, which makes it, the Re-Animator films and most of the Full Moon/Charles Band/Empire Pictures oeuvre the only horror films I could really get behind in the eighties. These movies don't rely on some colorful serial killer/anti-hero; instead, they're about monsters. This movie is satisfying to me because the evil dead really are evil dead, instead of being nihilistically charming comic-book villains who crack jokes and caper about, or silent unstoppable killing machines without a grain of character. If the zombies in The Evil Dead got into a fight with the Living Dead zombies they'd not only win, they'd also eat the losers.

And that's it for our first Cheapskate Horrorshow.  Join us tomorrow on The MonsterGrrls' Thir13en For Halloween for more discussion of mayhem and monsters, including that one behind you.  Made you look!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

COCKNEYS VS. ZOMBIES By Bethany Ruthven

#9: Bethany Ruthven
The poster
Good evening, darlings, and thank you for reading.  The season is upon us once again, and may I welcome you to today's installment ofThe MonsterGrrls' Thir13en For Halloween.  Today we shall have a look at an interesting little slice of horror filmmaking that comes to us all the way from London's East End: the pleasantly surprising Cockneys Vs. Zombies.  As has been mentioned before in previous posts, we here at MonsterGrrls HQ do not care much for zombies, but the round of zombie films in recent years has given way from the standard unpleasant gore-laden retreading of Night Of The Living Dead to some surprisingly well-executed takes on the zombie film, and Cockneys Vs. Zombies is one of these.


Brains, beauty, and big guns
Opening in an East End construction site, the discovery of a 17th-century boneyard that has been sealed on orders of Charles II releases zombies into modern-day London.  Meanwhile, local lads and ne'er-do-wells Terry McGuire (Rasmus Hardiker) and his younger brother Andy (Harry Treadaway) are set to pull off a bank heist to rescue their grandfather Ray (Alan Ford) from a retirement home that is about to be razed to make way for new construction (of course, it's being done by the same construction company that released the zombies).  Joining their compatriots in crime are the smart and sharp-tongued Katy (Michelle Ryan, who rather reminded me of me), near-useless Davey (Jack Doolan) and total nutter Mickey (Ashley Thomas).  Upon reaching the bank, the group finds that their simple heist has landed them in the middle of a massive embezzlement scheme by (yet again) the same construction company that released the zombies (which ties things rather neatly together).  Things go completely spare at this point (courtesy of Mickey), and the group is forced by Mickey to take hostages to get out of the bank, where they discover that the police are all dead and that zombies are feasting on their remains.  After some harrowing dodges of zombies and the dispatch of Mickey by zombies and a handy grenade (which is another interesting idea since it's usually the complete bastard who survives to the end in this sort of thing), Terry decides to save the retirement home, which is already under siege by zombies, who are being held off (not without difficulty) by the tough-minded Ray and his friends.

Not your grandfather's zombie hunters... or maybe they are
While American horror films seem determined to showcase only the young, Cockneys Vs. Zombies has no qualms whatsoever about showcasing some of the brightest and best of its older generation, featuring not only Alan Ford (who has starred in Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels) but also Honor Blackman (alumnus of the James Bond oveure and a former star of the much-loved The Avengers) in strong character roles that give them quite a bit to do.  It's rather refreshing to see a group of pensioners involved in a cracking bullet-strewn standoff with zombies, and the themes of family commitment and responsibility (even under duress) make Cockneys Vs. Zombies a unique entry in the zombie-film crop.  If you'd like to skip the usual zom-nom this season, stick this one in your DVD rotation for a pleasant Halloween evening.

So with that, it's felicitations of the season from me.  Do join us for the next installment of our little holiday party tomorrow, as we'd be delighted to have you along.

Regards,

Bethany Ruthven

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

NIGHT OF THE CREEPS By John Rose


#10: The Mad Doctor
So it's the fourth day of The MonsterGrrls' Thir13en For Halloween, and today we're taking a look at a rather fun little movie from 1986, Night Of The Creeps, directed by Fred Dekker, the same man who made the now-hallowed movie The Monster Squad.  Combining a bit of alien invasion with zombie movies, NOTC is the E.C. Comic to MS's Famous Monsters Of Filmland.

In this case, dead people aren't cool
Opening in 1958, NOTC starts with two aliens trying to stop the release of an experiment, which fails and lands on Earth.  A couple on a date investigate, and the boy becomes the recipient of the experiment--a small slug-like alien creature.  Twenty years later, would-be frat pledges Chris (Jason Lively), a lovelorn sort who hopes to find a love connection with down-to-earth sorority girl Cynthia (Jill Whitlow), and his disabled but supportive buddy J.C. (Steve Marshall) are given the task of finding a cadaver to place on the steps of a sorority house.  Chris and J.C. find one in a secret room of the local cryogenics lab (which is de rigeur for all colleges, natch), and it just happens to be the corpse of the Boy Who Swallowed The Slug From 1958... which tries to grab them.  Things go mightily awry from there, and when the corpse manages to make its way to the sorority house and release its payload of amassed slugs, supernatural highjinks are bound to ensue.


A view to a thrill
From there, the movie becomes a rip-roaring, rollicking tribute to old-fashioned B-horror movies that mixes lost love, new love, film-noirish attitude (courtesy of Tom Atkins, whose heavy-drinking police detective character is a hard-as-nails Broderick Crawford acolyte), zombie apocalyptics, sexy college girls and flamethrowers
Sorority girls, zombies, shotguns and flamethrowers:  what's not to love?


into a fantastic gore-flecked stew that is lovely to behold.  NOTC is available on both DVD and Blu-Ray, and of course we at the Monster Shop had to have it for our collected archive.  Horror nerds will enjoy picking out the names of their favorite horror directors throughout the film, as every character in the movie is named for a noted horror director.  Plus, the action takes place in and around Corman University, after B-movie king Roger Corman.

The return of this film to availability on DVD makes it a wonderful Halloween treat, and an even better double feature when paired with The Monster Squad.  Get them both and have your own Double-Dekker Movie Night for Halloween.

Join us tomorrow on The MonsterGrrls' Thir13en For Halloween, and don't worry about what's standing behind you... it's probably just reading the blog over your shoulder.  Of course, I could be very wrong...

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

HALLOWEEN PARTY MUSIC... FOR FREE! By John Rose

#11: The Mad Doctor
So everyone likes free stuff, especially during the Halloween season.  In fact, several blogmates and FB fiends of mine have mentioned finding wonderful deals and freebies this season at garage sales, Goodwill stores and so on.

Free Halloween Music here!
If you're throwing a Halloween party this year, no doubt you will need music to provide a soundtrack or background for your haunt.  Well, we at the Monster Shop have been alerted to a Tumblr blog called 31 Days of Halloween, that is posting completely free 10-song compilations of all kinds of music for the Halloween season.  There's a new compilation each day, and all downloads are still active, so you can obtain past as well as present for each day of October.  And in a wonderful show of Halloween spirit and generosity, the compilations from last year are available as well as this year's round.  (The 31OH administrators only ask that you follow the blog on Tumblr and give credit before reposting, if you choose to blog about this.)

Don't miss this opportunity to collect some great Halloween music.  All genres of music are represented, so you can collect your favorites as well as find some new ones.  Get yours today!

In the meantime, join us tomorrow for the next installment of The MonsterGrrls' Thir13en For Halloween!

Note:  All files come as zip files and must be unzipped using Winzip.  When the download is complete, the program will offer the option to open the file using Winzip.  Select this option and extract the files to a folder on your desktop.  Enjoy, and Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 20, 2014

WITCH'S NIGHT OUT By Punkin Nightshade



#12: Punkin Nightshade

Well, hey there, y’all, and Happy Halloween to you!  This here is Punkin Nightshade, what am a witch and Adept, and welcome to The MonsterGrrls’ Thir13een For Halloween!  Today I am speakin to you about somethin what just come out on that DVD gadget, called Witch’s Night Out, and as I am a witch and can be considered an expert on witchly didoes, I am goin to tell you about it.

This here is the DVD cover
This here is kind of interestin.  Witch’s Night Out is an old Halloween special that was only showed on the television once, back round Halloween 1978.  It was made up in Canada, and it had a very famous actress named Gilda Radner what was doin the voice of the witch.  Once they showed it, they didn’t never show it again until round 1983, when the Fox Network and that Disney Channel started showin it right regular ever Halloween for a little while.  Our old friend the Mad Doctor remembered seein this show from when he was a little ‘un, and he liked it, so as it is a Halloween special and what he also calls an interestin piece of animation it is natural that we are talkin about it here today.

The witch, bein all in a snit
The story is about a witch who’s a bit down in the dumps ‘cause ain’t no one round where she lives doin much to celebrate Halloween.  Well, almost no one, ‘cause a couple of young’uns named Small and Tender are runnin round trick-or-treatin and tryin to scare folk, and it’s natural all in fun cause it’s Halloween, but ain’t no one scared of them and everbody knows who they are.  Now the grown up folk round the neighborhood, what consists of some straight-laced sorts named Goodly and Nicely and some ugly nasty folks called Rotten and Malicious, are wantin to make Halloween into somethin that ain’t rightly Halloween, to my mind.  (Mad Doc said 
that this here was satirizin the community effort what was prevalent in the 1970’s, and I ain’t rightly sure what that means, but if you listen to them talk about what they’re doin for Halloween you just know they doin it all wrong.)

They's scary, but they's nice too
Some kind of community effort and such
So anyway, they all run up to this old mansion and start havin this party, and it ain’t rightly no Halloween party cause ain’t a single one of them even dressed up in a costume, and the witch is rightly upset cause they havin it in her house and ain’t even acknowledgin that she’s there, and them Rotten and Malicious folk done brought some of the nastiest party food there is, so it ain’t no Halloween party of nohow.  Meanwhile, Small and Tender are at home with their babysitter Bazooey, who’s a good-natured sort and tryin to cheer them up about Halloween.  Small and Tender natural want to be scarin folk, and they end up summonin the witch, who uses her magic wand to turn them into a ghost and a werewolf like they was tryin to be for trick-or-treat, and turns Bazooey into a monster what’s like my friend Frankie, except it’s a boy monster.  The witch takes them back up to her house and sets em to scarin folk, and they all run out of the house and in the resultin flapdoodle the witch loses her wand, so she can’t change the young’uns back to theirselves.  (This right here is how come real witches don’t use no wands or nothin.)  They run off to find the wand, but them Rotten and Malicious folk have got it, and they don’t know how to use it, so there’s a lot of highjinks and such afore everythin gets straightened out.  If you ain’t never seen it I don’t want to tell you what happens, but let’s just say that everbody learns the true meanin of Halloween, which is that it is a happy time where folks get to be what they want to be, if just for one night.

The DVD that this is on also has about nine more old cartoons on it, which I guess was put on there so that they could kind of fill out the space and not waste nothin.  There ain’t no special features much because there just ain’t much information out there about this show or them what made it, but the art and such is pretty good, kind of like a children’s picture book, and the place that it shows in the story is all its own original world and ain’t based on nothin what was already there, like that Charlie Brown show or such.  These same folk had also done another special for Christmas, called The Gift Of Winter, and that there will be out pretty soon on a DVD too.

So that is Witch’s Night Out, and if you are lookin for somethin interestin to look at on Halloween that ain’t nobody seen much of, why then you can watch this right here.  I hope you will be back tomorrow for the next postin of The MonsterGrrls’ Thir13en For Halloween, cause we is just gettin started and there’s a whole lot for us to do.  Blessings be on you!

Sincerely,
Petronella “Punkin” Nightshade

Sunday, October 19, 2014

NIGHT OF THE TYPICAL ZOMBIE: AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE By John Rose


#13: The Mad Doctor

Welcome, one and all, to the 2014 edition of The MonsterGrrls’ Thir13en For Halloween!  We took a year off, but as they say, we’re back from the grave and ready to party, and this year we’re kicking off the Ghost Wonderful Time Of The Year with a bit of total weirdness: the new comic series Afterlife With Archie.

Night Of The Living JugDead
While some may argue that the world really doesn’t need an Archie zombie comic, or that Archie Comics is jumping on an already enormously crowded bandwagon, there is no denying that ALWA is giving Archie Comics a much-needed zap of creative energy.  Archie has been a teenager for some 73 years now, and while Archie has played with horror before (such as the introduction of teen witch Sabrina Spellman, who serves as a catalyst for ALWA, and Filmation’s Saturday morning Archie spinoff Sabrina and The Groovie Goolies), ALWA is Archie’s first foray into full-blown horror.  Inspired by an alternate cover for the Life With Archie magazine edition by regular ALWA artist Francesco Francavilla, the series has gone on to serve as both a fascinating addition to the Archie Comics universe and a straightforward horror comic in the classic mold.

It begins
ALWA begins with the death of Jughead Jones’ beloved Hot Dog, run over by a car.  Jughead goes to Sabrina, begging her to use her powers to save Hot Dog, but Sabrina’s aunts tell him that it is already too late.  Determined to help her friend, Sabrina goes against her aunts’ wishes and uses the Necronomicon to bring back Hot Dog, who comes back from the grave… and comes back wrong.  Hot Dog’s reanimation sets in motion events which spell doom for the town of Riverdale and end with most of the main Archie characters trapped in the Lodge mansion, seeking escape from the zombies who have spread their contagion through Riverdale.

The Doom That Came To Riverdale
Not completely bloodless horror
While there will be some inevitable comparisons to Image Comics’ The Walking Dead (which can now be considered a modern classic and a template for zombie comics), ALWA does a good job of fitting well-known Archie characters into a zombie apocalypse setting.  Eschewing the usual hallmark Archie-cartoon style for a realistic style with a slight E.C. comics feel, ALWA presents a serious and straightforward version of the Archie universe, evoking as much horror as possible from its characters and situation.  At the same time, the series seems to have set its own limits on gore: there is blood and graphic content, but artist Francavilla and writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa seem to instinctively understand that what is not shown and evoked in the imagination can be just as horrific without completely going over the top.



Things to come
The first four issues have sold out, but ALWA’s initial five issues have been collected into a handsome paperback edition that collects issues 1-5, as well as a showcase of all alternate covers including the Life With Archie #23 cover that began the horror.  It can be found here. If you’re looking for some good horror comics, or want to get started, Archie has provided both a familiar group of characters and the beginning of an excellent horror saga.  Plus, ALWA has spawned a just-released sister series, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, also headed by Sacasa.  Though we in the Monster Shop are quite selective in our zombie viewing, we can say with certainty that ALWA is shaping up to be a fun ride.

Join us tomorrow for our next installment of The MonsterGrrls’ Thir13en For Halloween, and come see what’s on the slab…

Monday, November 26, 2012

THE NEXT BIG THING... By John Rose

The Mad Doctor
THINGS TO COME DEPT:  So I was asked to participate in an ongoing blog promo that is going around, called "The Next Big Thing."  Below is what's coming soon in the world of the MonsterGrrls.

What is your working title of your book?

The title is Season Of The Witch, and it is the third book in The MonsterGrrls series.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Season Of The Witch is the conclusion to the current story arc, which dictates the story of four teenage girls who are monsters and their induction into a human high school.

What genre does your book fall under?

Fantasy/horror/comedy/coming-of-age/sci-fi/romance/action/adventure/young-adult/adolescent.  Just say it's for people who like to read, and that would be pretty close.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

(This part's hard.)  What I keep seeing in my head is not live-action but animated, and not Pixar-type stuff either--traditional cel animation.  The voices I hear would be Grey Delisle as Frankie, Olivia D'Abo as Bethany, Sara Paxton as Punkin (doing a Southern accent that's one part Penelope Pitstop to three parts Elly May Clampett), Alison Scagliotti as Harriet, Eden Sher as Theo and Ariel Winter as Emily.  I have no idea who would play Stuart, but I have always wanted Bryan Cranston as Mr. Herschel.  Also, Mr. Lobo of Cinema Insomnia would be around somewhere, possibly doing some narration.

Also, I have to admit that I am not really interested in a MonsterGrrls movie, but since the holiday gets such short shrift by comparison I would really like to do The MonsterGrrls' Thanksgiving Special.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

As Khaine is released by unknown forces for one last shot at destroying Morlock Heights, Punkin takes matters into her own hands by creating a magic-driven laptop known as the SpellBook.  Highjinks ensue.  (No, it's not one sentence, but I couldn't help myself.)

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?


The book will be released by FrankenGeek Press, currently the finest and sole producer of MonsterGrrls books everywhere.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?


We're still working on it.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?


Well, we could compare it to Twilight since that's currently fashionable, but no one sparkles in my books or fights evil while appearing to be really bored with what they're doing.  Others have compared it favorably to Sweet Valley High, which I'm happy with even though there's no monsters in SVH.  Well, on second thought, there could be, as some of those people are a rather unnatural shade of blonde.

Sweet Valley High: Blonde, fresh-faced, and just that little bit frickin' creepy

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I was inspired by a combination of the Universal Monsters, Saturday morning cartoons (particularly Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! and its numerous revisions such as Goober And The Ghost Chasers, Fangface, Drak Pack, and so on) and other things like John Hughes films and Buffy The Vampire Slayer.  The basic idea of MonsterGrrls is Groovie Goolies welded to The Breakfast Club.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

The central themes of MonsterGrrls are not just about not fitting in and growing up, but also about friendship and how your friends that you can really count on become a part of your family.  Something we really want to get across to readers is that it is okay to be different--not good, not bad, but okay.  And we hope to continue these themes as the series goes on.

Include the link of who tagged you and this explanation for the people you have tagged.

The last part of this is something I was not able to do properly, due to the fact that I could not find others who had not done this already.  So, with the blessing of the person who tagged me, I am directing you to five sites that you should view and enjoy.  (Click the links to view their respective websites.)

Ellie Dunn is a writer of fantasy whose books run the gamut from science fiction to fantasy to paranormal romance.  Among the titles she has published from her own No Boundaries Press are The Unicorn And The Serpent and Space Rebels, and she is due to come out soon with a collection of short stories entitled Flights Of Delusion.  Check out this talented author's work today.

Cinema Insomnia is now in its 10th year of hosting schlocky horror and sci-fi movies that are not bad, just misunderstood.  Enjoy the antics of the engaging and clever Mr. Lobo, see some of the worst yet wackiest movies ever created, and gather interesting CI merchandise from their shop.

RavensBlight is an odd little town that exists solely in the head of one Ray O'Bannon, artist, writer, poet, musician and general renaissance man of all things weird and creepy.  Download and create your own paper toys, read fascinating short tales of horror and spooky poems, and obtain whole albums of atmospherically macabre music all created by the man himself.

Freaky Monsters is the magazine solely dedicated to preserving the spirit and history of classic horror films, with beautiful photos and articles featuring the masters of horror.  Get back issues, subscriptions, books, CDs and more from the website of this beautifully written and family-friendly magazine.

Atomic Monsters is one of the best and funniest websites a monster lover could find.  Solely dedicated to reviews of Atomic Age rubber-suit B-movies, its hilarious tongue-in-cheek delivery makes it a personal favorite.  Highly recommended by the Monster Shop.

There you go.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

ONE DARK NIGHT ON MOCKINGBIRD LANE By John Rose

The Mad Doctor
So.  Friday night was the premiere of Mockingbird Lane, the $10-million-dollar Munsters reboot conceived by Bryan Fuller and directed by Bryan Singer.  Or rather, it was the premiere of ML's pilot.  As promised, we at the Monster Shop decided to remain neutral on this until we actually saw what the fuss was about.

The originals
The major reasons for the fuss, of course, was the pilot being a reboot of the much-loved and venerable 1964-66 sitcom The Munsters, which depicted the adventures of a family of monsters: Herman, a Frankenstein monster, his vampire wife Lily, his vampire father-in-law Count Sam "Grandpa" Dracula, his werewolf son Eddie, and their cousin Marilyn, the normal (or abnormal, depending on your point of view) member of the family.  Fuller, who is renowned for the brief but critically acclaimed TV shows Pushing Daisies, Wonderfalls and Dead Like Me, drew fire from Munsters fans by promising an hour-long reimagining of the clan that he described as "True Blood meets Modern Family" and would also be more dramatic than comedic.  Despite all this, NBC, which for many years now has been trying to recreate the success of The Munsters, gave the green light to a pilot.  (It is still not clear exactly what NBC wants or expects from this, but Ye Writer surmises that it involves nothing short of resurrection of the original cast, most of whom are now dead.  I also believe that is pretty much the only thing that would please most Munsters fans.)

So two years and 10 million dollars later, Mockingbird Lane was completed and NBC was reportedly unhappy with the final product.  However, to save face, NBC agreed to premiere the pilot as a Halloween special leading into its fairy-tale horror/police procedural hit Grimm, which frankly was a decent fit for ML.

The new family on the block
Much of what we discussed in our first post on this experiment did come to pass.  Our story begins with a disastrous "baby bear attack" at a Scout troop campout, said Scout troop having one Eddie Munster (Mason Cook), a prepubescent werewolf, in its membership.  Responding to the signal of werewolf puberty, the Munsters quickly relocate themselves to Mockingbird Lane and send the "normal" cousin Marilyn (Charity Wakefield) to scoop up a great deal on the local "Hobo Murder House," which reportedly was the home of a serial killer who preyed on hobos.  Apart from the conflict of Eddie's sudden dislocation, the Frankensteinesque "made-Munster" Herman (Jerry O'Connell) has some problems of his own: his heart is breaking down because he loves too much, and he requires a new heart.  Since Herman is unable to tell his vampiric, shapeshifting wife Lily (Portia De Rossi) about what is happening to him, Grandpa "D" (Eddie Izzard, and yes, "D" is who you think it is), who is jubilant about Eddie's monster lineage asserting itself and looking forward to feeding from humans again, takes it upon himself to recruit a new heart from the local neighborhood's population--and finds a worthy successor in Eddie's widowed and unattached scoutmaster Steve (Cheyenne Jackson) whose heart skips a beat, just as Herman's does, when he sees Lily.  Of course, this means that Scoutmaster Steve has to die, and cue supernatural mayhem, Tortured Family moments a la Parenthood and discussions of morality, since neither Herman nor Lily can bring themselves to tell Eddie who the "baby bear" really is, and everyone (except Grandpa) has problems with just how they're going to get Herman's new heart.

So there's the backstory and the plot, and here's the skinny:  We at the Monster Shop are, unfortunately, still neutral on this show.  It was neither completely without redemption nor truly awful; in fact, it was much like New Coke.  It's not that it was terrible, just that it wasn't there.  And believe it or not, the major problem for Mockingbird Lane is the new Munsters themselves.

In the end, it's all about heart, which is part of the problem
As per the new Hollywood attitude toward monsters (all monsters must now look fairly realistic, normal and attractive, instead of like monsters), none of the Munsters look or act like the ones we're used to.  O'Connell's Herman is fairly nondescript despite the scars and convenient zipper in the chest (the better to operate the plot device), and even though there is a certain irony present in having Hollywood's most average-looking leading man play TV history's most abnormal-looking dad, O'Connell is unfortunately not Herman.  I am, however, pleased with the maturity that Herman shows in this pilot: there is none of the broad humor or man-child shtick that Fred Gwynne used to do, which sometimes made the show a bit hard to watch (for me, anyway).

The good and the bad get ugly
Cook's Eddie is remarkably stagnant for a child who is undergoing werewolf puberty; while he asks the right pointed questions, he comes across as the standard pre-adolescent suffering from the unhappiness of growing up.  De Rossi's Lily, while providing some nice eye candy and terrific vampire imagery (she arrives by reforming from a cloud of fog, then having her dress spun by spiders), does not really have much to do in the show, and neither does Wakefield's Marilyn, who comes across as creepier and more ghoulish than her Sixties counterpart.  The main thrust of the plot is the moral struggle between O'Connell's conflicted Herman and Izzard's blithely evil version of Grandpa, whose character suffers the worst in the pilot.  Gone is the crafty but kindly mad scientist/vampire who may or may not be Count Dracula; instead, Izzard is Count Dracula: ancient, demonic, devoid of morality and possessing much intellectual intelligence but no significant emotional growth.  And the sets and house, while magnificent, unfortunately bring to mind the Addams Family more than the Munsters, and often led me to think that Bryan Fuller was confused as to which show he was actually remaking.

Better Neighbors
So why are these new Munsters, who seem to be closer to actual monsters, the main problem?  Because Mockingbird Lane is not The Munsters, and unfortunately never will be.  The major mistake here is not really this show's central idea--monster family moves into normal human neighborhood, then begins to act like monsters--but its attachment to the Munsters legacy.  If this show had been given some other name besides Mockingbird Lane and the characters other names besides Herman and Lily and so forth, it could have become a nice horror-themed satire on not only Troubled Family shows like Parenthood but also the current crop of horror shows on TV today, which are in need of a good ribbing from time to time (the constant emotional turmoil of The Vampire Diaries and the relentless sturm und drang of American Horror Story immediately come to mind).  If one wants a show that is reminiscent of the early days of the Munsters, I would instead turn to ABC's The Neighbors, the current Wednesday night sitcom which depicts a New Jersey family who move to a gated community populated by a race of aliens stranded on Earth.  This show, a complete inversion of the aliens-among-us trope--humans, rather than aliens, must be the teachers, and the super-intelligent aliens unfortunately lack common sense--needs viewers, and I think it would serve well for people who expected more from Mockingbird Lane.  As for Mockingbird Lane itself, the show's central idea still has a chance to be accepted.  The solution is obvious: just quit trying to make lightning strike twice.

There you go.

For those who are interested, The Neighbors appears Wednesday nights on ABC at 8:30 (7:30 central).  Check your local listings for time.  More information can be found here.